370 pages into Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, I’m struck by how much of a physical book it is. Almost every feature of the book itself seems to have some sort of meaning. Danielewski takes what are just normal features of a book and uses them to create or add possible meaning to the story.
First, just look at the cover. The cover is almost half an inch shorter than the pages contained inside. This is a stylistic choice and could relate to the way the Navidson’s house is bigger on the inside than the outside. The book is titled House of Leaves. The word leaf is often used in place of page and Johnny Truant calls letters, “leaves of feeling” (350). House of Leaves is composed of pages, and a book itself is a home for leaves of paper. It is a house of leaves. Is this a book about books?
With the copious use of footnotes, the way text is arranged on certain pages to reflect the story, the multiple appendixes, this novel is very aware of its status as a physical book. I feel like some of David Foster Wallace’s reasoning for using footnotes and endnotes could illuminate what Danielewski is trying to do. In 1994 he said that endnotes, “2) mimic the information-flood and data-triage I expect’d be an even bigger part of US life 15 years hence” and “4) allow/make the reader go literally physically ‘back and forth’ in a way that perhaps cutely mimics some of the story’s thematic concerns.” But they could be interpreted in many other ways. Even having the word “house” in blue is just another enigmatic aspect of the book that would work only in book form. It would be impossible to turn this into a movie and have the same effect. All of these features are something that could only be employed in the print form.
But what do all of these features mean? On the first page of chapter one, the blind author Zampanò tells us, “the house itself, like Melvilles behemoth, remains resistant to summation” (3). The author compares the house to Melville’s behemoth, Moby Dick, a book similar in size, complexity, and mystery. So if we take “the house” here to mean the book itself rather than the Navidson house, the author is telling us that all of these confusing signs just create a book with an enormous amount of interpretations. Like “Stephen King. Novelist” says:
“look at Ahab’s whale. Now there’s a great symbol. Some say it stands for god, meaning, and purpose. Others say it stands for purposelessness and the void. But what we sometimes forget is that Ahab’s whale was also just a whale” (361).
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